Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

August 13, 2017

Bombs and Bombast

By David K. Shipler

            President Trump’s threats that the military is “locked and loaded” to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea are likely to be turned around by history as phrases of self-mockery. They will—hopefully—be on the same list of absurdities as “Mission Accomplished,” that huge banner hung on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln as President George W. Bush spoke of victory in Iraq prematurely, in 2003. Or, remember President Lyndon B. Johnson’s swashbuckling call to US troops in Vietnam to “nail the coonskin to the wall?” As Michael Beschloss notes, it came long after LBJ himself, in 1965, had expressed serious doubts in private that the war was winnable.
            Trump’s hawkish generals—his chief of staff, national security advisor, and defense secretary—seem to know what he does not: that war with North Korea is also unwinnable, because even using conventional weapons alone, Pyongyang could kill hundreds of thousands of South Koreans in Seoul and elsewhere within range of the North’s well-bunkered artillery. As American military analysts have noted, the North could send troops pouring across the demilitarized zone, and China would be tempted to enter the fighting. A nuclear exchange would be the Armageddon of the atomic age.
            Trump loves making grandiose (empty) promises and flat statements of tough-guy rhetoric. It’s been suggested that he’s still in real-estate mogul mode, figuring that starting a negotiation with a rash demand gets you a favorable compromise in the end. The trouble is, he sounds more like an unhinged Mafia chieftain than a sober United States president. In threatening North Korea’s annihilation, he reinforces the anti-American propaganda that has propelled Pyongyang’s painstaking acquisition of its nuclear capability.
As Jean Lee, a former Associated Press correspondent in Pyongyang writes in TheNew York Times, the North has schooled children to hate America and fear its aggression. So Trump’s rhetoric now plays into the hands of Kim Jong-un, who needs fear of attack and invasion to weld his people into a compliant mass beneath his dictatorship. Perhaps Trump also needs an outside enemy (in addition to ISIS) to shore up his waning support among Americans and distract from the special counsel’s accelerating investigation of the Russia affair.
            As we’ve seen, North Korea has proved to be a tough nut to crack. Its nuclear program has resisted economic sanctions, stern warnings from China, American military posturing, and sweeter noises from Washington of negotiated compromise. The situation looks like one of those problems without a solution—or a solution that would create more problems. The more nuclear development, the more hostility Pyongyang encounters, and the more hostility, the more it sees the need for a nuclear shield to deter attack.
Further, neither China nor South Korea wants a failed state in the North, with the consequent floods of desperate refugees across the borders. As West Germany learned after reunification with East Germany, rescuing a neighboring basket case is an expensive proposition.
Perhaps, behind the scenes, Trump is a lot cleverer than he appears in public. Perhaps he calculates that crazy unpredictability puts adversaries off balance, Maybe he’s trying to frighten Beijing into tightening the screws on Pyongyang. He might be trying to exploit potential splits within the North Korean leadership that could be wedged open against Kim Jong-un if enough well-positioned generals there think they’re about to face a nut case in Washington eager for an excuse to hurl nukes at them.
That’s probably giving Trump too much credit. But you know what? It’s definitely worth hoping that whatever he’s doing works. I wouldn’t bet more than a nickel on it, but seeing Trump strut around bragging about bringing the Art of the Deal to international diplomacy would be a small price to pay for avoiding war. 


  1. It's definitely giving THUMP "too much credit" but I appreciate your point. And I agree with it. The scariest thing about this mindless, thoughtless, direction-less, know-nothing FOOL is that he's got a very active TWITCHY, ITCHY FINGER!!!
    I remember saying to my friends after his inauguration, this guy's going to get us into a nuclear war within months! Not because he's got some kind of great, strong, meaningful ideals - of course not, he's truly vacuous - and how! - but because he's got TWITCHY ITCHY FINGER!!! Now THAT'S about as scary as it gets in this day and age.

  2. I simply hope that saner minds will prevail.